A Victorian Tomboy, Navigating History and Maps Maps Maps!

By Riah King-Wall, intern

A birds-eye-view of the imaging process. Photograph by Riah King-Wall. © Te Papa

A birds-eye-view of the imaging process. Photograph by Riah King-Wall. © Te Papa

Kia ora – I’m Riah King-Wall, and for the past five weeks I’ve been digging into some of the fascinating bits and pieces housed within the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Here on placement from the Master of Museum and Heritage Studies programme at Victoria University of Wellington, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a project within the Archives.

It has been my job to catalogue, image, and store a single series from the Museum Archives:  MU000049 – Maori and Pacific Historical, Portrait and Artwork Cartographic collection, 1814 – 1970s. This series alone holds over 250 individual pieces of ephemera, gathered together from a wide range of sources and used historically by researchers from the museum. It includes maps, plans, surveys, prints, photographic portraits, drawings, did I mention more maps (!) and a particularly epic navigational chart of the Southern Hemisphere. This beautiful first edition print is by Guillame De L’Isle, a famed mapmaker who pioneered using advanced mathematical and scientific principles in cartography. The chart depicts a polar hemispherical map showing  Australia and New Zealand according to Tasman’s two voyages in 1642-3 and 1644.

Here is De L’Isle, depicted in an expansive and glorious wig. Guillame De L'Isle, 1802, by Conrad Westermayr (1765–1834) and Jean Henri Cless (1774–1812). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is De L’Isle, depicted in an expansive and glorious wig. Guillame De L’Isle, 1802, by Conrad Westermayr (1765–1834) and Jean Henri Cless (1774–1812). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hailing from the Bay of Plenty, I was immediately drawn to the fascinating plans and sections of pā sites from the region which were the settings for significant battles during the New Zealand wars. In particular, I’ve been hooked on material around the Battle of Gate Pā, which had its 150th anniversary this year with a number of special events held in the Tauranga area during 2014. The rough sketch and letter below are engaging objects which help paint a picture of how events transpired back in 1864. Ultimately, Gate Pā was the most destructive defeat of the British military in the New Zealand wars, with their casualties making up more than a third of the storming party. The final line of the letter, from William Walmsley to a Mr Ince, gives us an insight into the effects of the humiliating defeat suffered by British forces ­ “…in fact the less said about the Gate Pā the better”.

Plan of attack on Gate Pa, Tauranga, c1890. Walmsley, William. Te Papa

Plan of attack on Gate Pa, Tauranga, c1890. Walmsley, William. Te Papa

As for those cheeky Victorian tomboys… later in the series a range of drawings pop up, all drawn by the utterly magnificent Ethel Richardson. Richardson, along with her sisters Lillie and Fanny, grew up in the late 1800s in Southland, but moved in late adolescence to Wellington when her father (George Frederick Richardson) became a government minister. All of the girls were high spirited and independent Victorian tomboys, and in 1890 when Ethel was 21, she and her sisters convinced their parents to let them board a government steamer captained by a friend of their father’s (the Hinemoa) to take a trip around the sub-Antarctic islands. They were already experienced sea-voyagers, and in Ethel’s diary of the trip she writes and draws about conditions on the voyage as well as wildlife or scenes the ship encountered. Her accounts mention capturing a horse at Bluff and riding it bareback after fashioning a bridle from flax. She also notes games of hide-and-seek with local sea lions and missions through squelchy bog to fetch grass for the ship’s cow.

This voyage took the girls to the Auckland, Campbell, Antipodes and Bounty Islands, where each was assessed for its potential as a haven for castaways. If deemed suitable, livestock such as sheep, goats, and cows were released in order to provide self-sustaining food sources for potential shipwreck victims. During the long hours at sea in between these stops, the girls would carve wood, draw, flirt with their shipmates, play practical jokes, or practice violin. Ethel drew a diary entry showing a solitary goat upon the edge of a cliff face, with the sea below and screeching seagulls above, and captioned it with ‘This is meant to represent the sound of a piece of Lillie’s music’.

Upon her return to Wellington, Ethel worked as a draughtswoman for her father with the Department of Lands and Survey, an unusual line of work for a woman at the time. Her accomplished mapping skills can be seen in the drawings she did on plans of pā sites for Elsdon Best in his book The Pa Maori.

Okoki Pa, Urenui District, Taranaki, c1920. Richardson, Ethel. Te Papa

Okoki Pa, Urenui District, Taranaki, c1920. Richardson, Ethel. Te Papa

Te Kawa Pa - Urenui, Taranaki, c1920. Richardson, Ethel. Te Papa

Te Kawa Pa – Urenui, Taranaki, c1920. Richardson, Ethel. Te Papa

During the 1930s Ethel moved to Waiho Gorge, Mount Cook, and was an early conservationist for the glaciers in the area. When the glacier valley track was being widened to accommodate motor vehicle traffic, she fought for the protection of the rata trees there and was successful in saving them. She also taught local schoolchildren the art of nature studies, and flora and fauna identification, taking them on walking trips through the bush and rivers.

Ethel (also known as Aunty Fluff later in life due to her snow white hair) studied painting in her youth under Petrus van der Velden. Her paintings depict delicate and realistic alpine landscapes, and while she was very attached to many and reluctant to part with them, she did support herself by selling works through the local hotel to tourists.

In the series I’ve been working on, her presence is in illustrations made c1920, to accompany a variety of publications by researchers from the museum at the time. Her drawings of Pacific kites and outrigger canoes are highly detailed and confidently rendered.

Sketch of Fijian outrigger canoe with lateen sail, date not given. Richardson, Ethel. Te Papa

Sketch of Fijian outrigger canoe with lateen sail, date not given. Richardson, Ethel. Te Papa

In addition to savouring the many delicious stories and images from the series, I have had an absorbing time taking part in the wider culture of the museum. Participating in training and workshops I’ve learned how to make archival boxes, work within the collections database, image objects correctly, and best practice with regards to handling precious paper objects. Highlights have been a trip to view a potential addition to the Archives collection, attending the Matariki Dawn Ceremony for staff, and sitting in on meetings to learn more about the potential that the Archives holds for researchers in various fields.

Two of my fellow Museum and Heritage Studies students have also been on placement here at Te Papa and together we have been able to take back-of-house tours to the taonga Māori stores, the photography collection, the textile stores, the fish specimens, the history stores, and conservation labs. I am very grateful to all those staff members who have made this placement extremely rewarding and enjoyable, especially my supervisor Jennifer Twist (Archivist).

9 Responses

  1. Marion Arts

    Thank you for this great detective work. Sealion spotting, goat and gull admiration, violin appreciation, sketching, mapping and rata rescues are all great works for the precious planet. This is greatly happiness-inducing.

    Reply
    • Riah

      Thanks Marion! The goat-bleating and gull-squarking was a great comparison… I hope Lillie’s playing wasn’t truly that bad, otherwise it must have been pretty arduous being cooped up on a boat together!

  2. william

    Tasty tidbits indeed. Nice to know Te Papa is respecting the Bay of Plenty with archival treasures. Wish we could see more. It’s a shame the region’s local government shows an inability in getting its own museum up and running.

    Reply
    • Riah

      Hi William,

      Thanks for your comment. We are working on getting all of the images from the series up shortly, so you should be able to see them soon.

      I would love a Tauranga Museum too – there are plenty of treasures in the Bay which would be great to have on display. Hopefully one day!

  3. Pita Rene

    I like Ethel Richardson already.

    Reply
  4. joanne

    What an interesting read. There’s so much of our heritage ‘hidden’ in storage it is lovely to have it bought to life in such a way. I particularly enjoyed the absorbing snippets regarding NZ’s Victorian tomboys! Thank you to the author of the post, it was most enjoyable.

    Reply
    • Riah

      Thanks Joanne for your lovely comment! It’s been a fascinating adventure through all of the objects – and don’t the Richardson sisters sound like great fun?

  5. Pita Rene

    1. I am a Ngatitoa Rangatira member interested in the history of the Ngatitoa people after my parents time. My mother Ariana Eileen Rene was a claimant to the Waitangi Tribunal for and on behalf of themselves and all descendants of the iwi and hapu of Ngatitoa Rangatira.
    2. I have read with interest the type of information that is available and would like to find out how this can be accessed.
    3. I like Ethel Richardson already.

    Reply

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